Local community or residence of a religious order, particularly an order of monks. Christian monasteries originally developed in Egypt, where the monks first lived as isolated hermits and then began to coalesce in communal groups. Monasteries were later found throughout the Christian world and often included a central space for church, chapels, fountain, and dining hall. In the Middle Ages they served as centres of worship and learning and often played an important role for various European rulers. The vihara was an early type of Buddhist monastery, consisting of an open court surrounded by open cells accessible through an entrance porch. Originally built in India to shelter monks during the rainy season, viharas took on a sacred character when small stupas and images of the Buddha were installed in the central court. In western India, viharas were often excavated into rock cliffs. See alsoabbey.